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A STORY ABOUT A REAL MAN                                                                    325
"Look out, 'Richthofen'!" muttered Alexei through his
teeth. Biting his lips until they bled and contracting his
firm muscles, he glued his eyes to his sight and exercised
all his will-power to prevent them from shutting in the
face of the enemy machine that was charging straight at
He strained^his senses to such a degree that through
the haze of his whirling propeller he thought he could
see the transparent screen of the enemy's cockpit, and
through that, two human eyes intently staring at him;
and those eyes burned with frenzied hate. It was a vision
called up by nervous tension, but Alexei was convinced
that he saw them. "This is the end," he thought, con-
tracting all his muscles still tighter. "This is the end." He
looked ahead and saw the rapidly growing plane rushing
towards him like a whirlwind. No, that German would
not swerve either. This was the end.
He prepared for instant death. Suddenly, when it seemed
to him that he was within arm's length of the German
machine, the German pilot lost his nerve and his plane
leapt upward; the blue, sunlit underside of the German
machine flashed like lightning in front of him. In that
instant Alexei pressed all his triggers, stitched the German
with three fiery threads and looped; and as the ground
swung over his head he saw the plane fluttering helplessly
against its background.
"Olya!" he yelled in frenzied triumph, and forgetting
everything he spiralled down in narrow circles, accompany-
ing the German machine on its last journey, right down
to the red, weed-covered ground, until it struck the earth
and sent up a column of black smoke.
Only then did his nervous tension and tightened muscles
relax, leaving him with a sense of intense weariness. He
glanced at the fuel gauge. The pointer was trembling
almost at zero.
There was fuel left for three, at best four minutes'
flying. It would take at least ten minutes to get back to
the airfield, plus some time for increasing altitude. He
had been a fool to descend with that damaged "Fokke"!
"Like a foolish kid!" he said, scolding himself.
As is always the case with brave, cool men in mo-
ments of danger, his mind was clear and worked with the